The corrupt leaders of Russia are manipulating courts and tribunals around the world – with a particular focus on the UK – with “blatant lies, forged documents, and utterly implausible explanations”, it was claimed today.
Lawyers were also accused of being “pin-striped enablers” of Russian money laundering.
Writing the foreword to a report on Russian interference in European judicial systems, prominent QC Ben Emmerson argued that, over the past decade or so, “the Russian state authorities have set about consciously misusing international judicial mechanisms by stealth, pursuing perceived opponents around the globe”.
He said they worked on the assumption that “the judicial authorities established by liberal democracies will be slow to challenge a direct assertion made on behalf of a sovereign state, or to subject it to the sort of scrutiny that the current situation demands”.
The report, entitled Russian Kleptocracy and the Rule of Law: How the Kremlin undermines European Judicial Systems, was written by legal academic Dr Andrew Foxall for the thinktank the Henry Jackson Society.
Though it considers six cases of Russian judicial interference in Europe – including actions taken in the UK against well-known Russia critic Ben Browder – the report said the UK judicial system “has a particular importance for the Kremlin and its cronies”.
Given the number of high-profile critics and opponents who fled Russia for the UK in the early 2000s, “the UK has become a frontline in Putin’s domestic campaign against critics and opposition figures, and in his foreign campaign to change how Russia is viewed in the West”.
Mr Emmerson has represented a series of the Kremlin’s foes in proceedings across Europe including Marina Litvinenko, Mr Browder, and the states of Ukraine and Georgia.
He wrote: “The United Kingdom must now recognise this critical national security threat and take effective action. The visa reforms introduced so far, the limited economic sanctions, and unexplained wealth orders do not begin to go far enough.”
He said the government’s intention to bring the Magnitsky sanctions regime into force – allowing it to sanction human rights offenders – should be “an urgent priority”.
The report highlighted international arrest and extradition powers as being particularly vulnerable to Russian misuse.
It recommended launching a parliamentary inquiry into how Russia abused the international legal system; enacting a statutory duty to issue judges with political guidance on the validity of Russia’s justice system; and introducing a “strong presumption” against Russian state entities in cases before the courts.
Dr Foxall compared Russia’s efforts to undermine Europe’s judicial systems with the far more widely recognised attacks on political systems, saying that “European courts have, on occasions, become tools of Russian foreign policy”.
He said it was “questionable” whether law firms were “taking their duties as seriously as they might”, as well.
In remarks over the weekend, the academic warned that Russian figures, abetted by “pin-striped enablers” in legal firms, were also exploiting courts in Europe to launder money out of Russia.
He identified cases brought by Russian entities that were “nothing more than elaborate ruses in which both parties conspire to game the courts in a money laundering exercise”.
Mr Browder – who has campaigned tirelessly for the Magnitsky sanctions, which are now law in the US – added: “The Kremlin pursues its enemies through every available means, including by exploiting Western legal processes.
“Like many others, I rely on independent courts to protect me from routine attacks. Yet, a troubling pattern of interference means that it is questionable whether English courts are able to offer protection from Kremlin-backed lawfare.”
The report said there was an inclination to view Russia as a “normal country”. It continued: “It is not. Russia is a country in which a cabal of criminals has established a system based on an authoritarian kleptocracy.
“In doing so, this cabal has available to it all the institutions that the international legal order has traditionally made available to states. It uses these institutions not to uphold the rule of law but instead to carry out campaigns of political persecution and economic expropriation.”
Mr Emmerson said the threat came from a “small but tight-knit conspiracy whose tenure in power in Moscow is beginning to ebb away as the end of the Putin era approaches”.
But it would take decades, and a huge amount of political determination, to put Russia into the position of a trusted international partner, he aruged.
“Until then, it is vital that the United Kingdom should work with its international partners, in NATO and beyond, to develop legal and political strategies to protect its domestic institutions and the international organisations of which it forms a part.”